The 'Marriage à la Mode' series was Hogarth's first to satirize the upper classes. In particular he was attacking arranged marriages for economic convenience. The series tells of the disastrous marriage of the Earl of Squanderfield's son, Viscount Squanderfield, to the daughter of a wealthy Alderman of the City of London.
In this first scene the Alderman is scrutinising the marriage contract whilst the Earl sits holding his family tree, with his foot raised to ease his gout. The money the Earl will gain from the marriage will help him to finish building a new mansion which can be seen through the window behind him. His son is more interested in admiring his own reflection in the mirror than admiring his prospective wife who is receiving the attentions of the Earl's youthful lawyer, Councillor Silvertongue.
The Earl's paintings all show scenes of murder and martyrdom, an insight into the future of the couple whose plight is represented by the two chained dogs at the Earl's feet.